Long-standing disputes and historical animosity are behind Japan’s punishing trade terms against South Korea.
The Japanese imposed tighter controls on the export of semiconductor materials to South Korea. It also threatens to exclude Seoul from the “white list” of trusted trade partners.
The Koreans are shocked at the Japanese move which could cripple South Korea’s electronics industry.
This significance for South Korea is enormous and it could the country’s economy hard, says Anbound Malaysia.
<<It could hit Samsung, LG, SK and other sectors that depends on the import of Japanese semiconductors>> -Anbound
“South Korea’s economy relies heavily on the manufacturing industry. Ever since the Korean economy took off, the manufacturing industry represented by Samsung, LG, SK, and other enterprises have made up an important part of South Korea’s economy,” says Anbound.
But Japan’s ‘sanction’ against the South Koreans has wider geopolitical implications.
Japan is concerned with the rapprochement the United States, Russia and even South Korea with the ‘hermit kingdom’ of North Korea.
Anbound also says even if the trade dispute is resolved, Japan’s discontent will likely manifest itself in other ways, and could possibly change the geopolitical pattern in Northeast Asia.
Firstly, Japan and South Korea have increasingly divergent interests over the North Korean nuclear issue.
Secondly, with the recovery of U.S.-North Korea relations, China-North Korea relations, and even the Russia-North Korea relations in 2018, Japan has been increasingly marginalized on the North Korean nuclear issue.
Thirdly, Japan is increasingly dissatisfied with the fact that the United States cannot continue to play an active leadership role in the region.
At WFTV, we feel that Japan is putting pressure on South Korea to get reparations from this backlash.
Anbound says the trade dispute will be damaging for South Korea which is bound to lose heavily.
Crucially, South Korea’s manufacturing sector is heavily dependent on Japanese semiconductor materials.
Anbound says the move by Japan is to express its dissatisfaction against South Korea on several matters.
“This is not the first time the Japanese government expressed its dissatisfaction with the South Korean government through economic means.
“In fact, it came as early as 2015, when the issue of comfort women and Dokdo Island caused high tensions to flare up between Japan and South Korea.
“As a result of these tensions, the Abe administration suspended a 14-year currency exchange program between the two countries.”
The trade friction reflects the huge influence of historical issues still lurking behind the shadows in relations between Japan and South Korea, as well as the trend of Japanese foreign policy, it says.
Moreover, when it comes to how to respond to China’s rise, the South Korean government shows a very different attitude towards Japan’s close proximity to the United States.
It even considers the impact of THAAD issue and the recovery of China-Japanese relations since 2019.
Without the influence of historical factors, the rise of China means more opportunities than challenges for South Korea.
Japan is still trying to keep pace with the US after a change in US policy towards North Korea in 2018, but so far it has had little success.
In the frequent diplomatic activities of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2018, the leaders of Japan and North Korea became the only leaders among the Six-Party Talks that did not meet each other.
Although Shinzo Abe has repeatedly said he would meet with Kim “without any preconditions”, the latter has apparently shown little interest in such a meeting.
The reason is that North Korea understands that resolving the “hostage issue” between Japan and North Korea does not help much in obtaining economic assistance from the Japanese side without thoroughly resolving the relations between North Korea and the US.
As the leader of the Northeast Asian alliance system, the United States once acted as a “mediator” between Japan and South Korea, avoiding the escalation of the conflict between the two sides.
The Trump administration is notably less enthusiastic on the issue than the Obama administration.
<<This is partly because America lacks a clear vision of its own position in the Asia Pacific Alliance>> – Anbound
Trump has recently mentioned that the United States intends to withdraw from the “US-Japan Security Alliance”, which made the Japanese government and society very worried about such an eventuality.
Some Japanese scholars even said that Trump’s statement on the US-Japan Security Alliance was comparable to the “Black Ship” incident before the Meiji Restoration.
Japan is increasingly worried about the future geopolitical pattern of Northeast Asia. Given that, the recent trade friction between Japan and South Korea could be deemed as the manifestation of this concern, says Anbound.